Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

'The Last Frontier': Rationalizing the Spread of Farming into the Boreal Woods of Canada, C. 1910-1940

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

'The Last Frontier': Rationalizing the Spread of Farming into the Boreal Woods of Canada, C. 1910-1940

Article excerpt

As the twentieth century opened, there were rumours that the cheap land underpinning the dramatic spread of settlement in the previous century might be running out. There were strong motivations, generated particularly by the large body of land seekers with a passion for farming, to hold off the demise of the famous agricultural frontier. Also wedded to the continuation of a frontier were politicians and civil servants across the country. Whether it was a subconscious expectation that the frontier would simply continue or a fear that its disappearance would lead to unpredictable social disturbance, politicians encouraged expansion beyond what was known to be good farmland. The major source of new land, from c. 1910, was the boreal forest. There was a steady accumulation of information about the North that was readily available to government officials but only indirectly to ordinary land seekers. Although the news about farming conditions in the boreal margin was unpromising except for a few pockets, independent and assisted farm settlements continued into the 1930s. The typical two-thirds of farm failure within one generation in most of the new boreal settlements caused a great deal of settler grief and forced reluctant officials to respond to the negative scientific evidence and to reassess frontier nostalgia. The Second World War provided both a denouement of the northern farm settlement and a reason for many people to depart the 'last frontier'.

Au tournant du vingtieme siecle, des rumeurs couraient que les terres a bon marche disparaitraient, lesquelles avaient determinoe l'extension spectaculaire de la colonisation tout au long du siecle precedant. De fortes motivations animees principalement par les masses d la recherche de terres ayant la passion de l'agriculture, les ont pousswes a remettre a plus tard la fin de la celebre limite agricole. Partout au pays, des politiciens et fonctionnaires tenaient infiniment a l'idee du prolongement de la limite. Si c'etait en raison d'un souhait subconscien't que la limite s'etende tout simplement d jamais, ou une crainte que sa disparition pourrait provoquer des perturbations sociales impossibles a prevoir, les politiciens ont favorise l'expansion au-dela des terres fertiles connues. En 1910, la foret boreale representait la source principale de nouvelles terres. Beaucoup d'informations circulaient sur le nord, mais elles etaient plus largement accessibles par les representants du gouvernement que par les simples chercheurs de terres. Malgre que les informations sur les conditions agricoles en bordure de la foret boreale n'etaient pas encourageantes sauf a quelques endroits, la colonisation agricole independante et subventionnoee se poursuivie jusqu'a dans les annees 1930. Apres une generation, deux exploitations sur trois connurent l'echec dans la plupart des jeunes colonies situ,es en zone boreale. Ce revers leur causa beaucoup de peine et poussa les representants du gouvernement reticents a donner suite aux resultants scitifiques negatifs et a reevaluer la nostalgie liee a la limite. La Seconde Guerre mondiale a mis fin a la colonization agricole dans le nord et a servi de pretexte a plusieurs personnes a tourner le dos a la derniere limite.

Introduction

In the years leading up to the First World War, while immigration was at full tide, there was a growing concern that the agricultural frontier was nearing its limits. The question in the popular mind was, could the supply of potential farmland last much longer in the face of the continuing huge demand for farms? One influential magazine in 1909 was quite direct about it, publishing an article entitled 'The Last Trek to the Last Frontier': 'We are within sight of the end of free land ... This is the last frontier to which the adventurous pioneer will ever trek in America.... Ten years will see the end of free lands worth having' (Laut 1909, 102-3). But although this frontier, defined by the traditional grassland/parkland settlement, was indeed foundering at the barrier of drought in the south of the Prairie Provinces and on the high plains of the United States, it was not the last frontier. …

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